YouTube: An inspiring, weird world

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Network television and major production companies can create awe-inspiring works of art, but they are often limited by industry standards, engrained expectations, and bottom lines. Not YouTube. On this platform, creators are in charge, meaning the world gets an incredible mix of informative, inspirational, and weird.

This week on Everyday Liminality, Br. Tito and I discuss the wonders of YouTube and a few of our favorite channels.

Greed, Inequality, and a Pandemic

“All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their property and possessions and divide them among all according to each one’s need.” Is this from the Communist Manifesto? Did Mao Tse-Tung write this? No. But those are good guesses. In actuality, this quote is from the Acts of the Apostles, a line taken from our readings today. It describes how the early Christians lived, how they shared amongst themselves so that no one went without.

And it makes me wonder: how well do we live up to this idyllic image of Christian living? What the current coronavirus is revealing is that we as a society fall pretty far short.

Saving a Dying, Shrinking Church

By just about any metric, the Church in Europe and United States is in decline. From Church attendance to denominational affiliation, people are coming to Church less and no longer identifying with organized religion.

What do we do about this? Naturally, the answer to this question would take months to answer in a video, if an answer can even be given. Rather than offering a comprehensive response to the issue, i want to focus on one thing in this video: reframing our goals.

As much as the common metrics seem dire, quantitative data may not be all that helpful to us. Why? Because in years past, many people came to Church because they had to. It didn’t mean that they were true disciples, it just meant that there was social pressure to show up to church on Sunday. Now that that is simply not the case, we can see that “church attendance” may not be the end goal of our faith. Rather, we need to get to the core of what it means to be a Christian, and focus our attention on what really matters.

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Imagine a world in which everyone is isolated from one another, in which people are so lonely and emotionally stunted that their only place of comfort is found in computers, video games, and anonymous online communication.

Okay. That’s probably not too difficult to imagine. But imagine it in “the future” where we have highly advanced artificial intelligence systems… Now we’re stretching things a bit!

Such is the premise of the 2013 movie Her. Winner of the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, it is one of the most dynamic, creative, beautiful stories I have ever seen. Moving beyond the question of “is she human” almost immediately, the movie poses a far more interesting question: what actually makes the physical characters “human”? With ever advance in the artificial intelligence’s consciousness, emotion, existential crisis, and even love, there is a challenge to the human characters to reclaim a part of themselves that has been lost to isolation and loneliness, to communicate with one another in the way we were created to do.

Starring Joachim Phoenix, Amy Adams, Chris Pratt, and Scarlett Johansson (as the artificial intelligence voice), Her is well-acted and thought-provoking, but is definitely intended for a mature audience. With an R-rating for language, sexual content and brief graphic nudity, it is not exactly family friendly, but then again, most existential questions of our reality aren’t. If you can get passed some of its more graphic features, it is among the most important films of our age.

Read the Catechism and you will certainly learn what Catholics believe. Study Canon Law and you will undoubtedly learn what Catholics do. But in neither of these texts will a far more important question become self-evident: why do Catholics believe this or that?

Behind every statement of faith is the possibility of interpreting Scripture and Tradition in a slightly different way. Few things are undeniably self-evident, but are rather influenced by theological foundation that guides us. We have, simply put, a Catholic worldview that informs what we believe, how we pray, and why we remain Catholic.

In order to understand what it means to be Catholic, as opposed to Protestant, we have to understand that essential spirit that guides everything we do. In this video, I offer three core principles and four additional themes that define us as Catholic.

This Easter, maybe more than any other, we are able to identify with the Christians of the first Easter. Like them, we are celebrating in our homes, behind locked doors, confused, heartbroken, and a bit afraid.

Jesus had a message for them and he has the same message for us: Do not be afraid.

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In a previous episode, Br. Tito and I discussed some of the greatest sports movies of all time and why we liked them. Given our love for sports, we thought it was a great episode, revealing how important the genre is to cinema. But we made one mistake: we never came to a definitive answer. What is the greatest sports movie of all time. In this episode, we set out to answer that question.

In place of the NCAA tournament championship that would have aired yesterday, we decided to have our own bracket. Picking 32 movies and placing them in four categories, we would have 31 head-to-head matchups to decided it all.

How would this work with only two people, you ask? It wouldn’t. Which is why we called on an old friend of ours to ensure that every game had a winner. It wasn’t always the right choice… but it was definitive. And ultimately, I think we came to the correct choice in the end.

If you’d like to follow along, or fill it out before you listen, our bracket can be found below:

 

During Lent, and especially on Good Friday, many Catholics pray the stations of the cross. It is among the most popular devotions in the whole world, ranging in style and content from place to place.

But where did this devotion come from, and how did it develop over time? Interestingly enough, the Franciscans had a lot to say in answering both questions.

If you’re interested in praying the stations at home, I recommend a number of resources to you. The first is the USCCB’s website that includes multiple versions of the prayer. Catholic Relief Services has produced a version that connects our prayer to the suffering and poverty of our world. As I mention in the video, there are also Marian versions of the devotion, following the events from her perspective. And, honestly, there is a lot of leeway to create your own. A parishioner just sent me a “coronavirus themed” version that reflects on the current situation in light of Christ’s passion. The point of the practice is to mediate on the events of Christ’s death in a way that makes sense to us, and so I say, “be creative.”

It’s Palm Sunday! Which means free leaves, a super long Gospel, and a short homily! (Okay, well, at least you get two of those things today!) Here’s a quick reflection as we look to the end of Lent this week. Things may not have gone as we wanted since Ash Wednesday, but there’s still time to prepare for Easter!

What is the utmost goal of every Christian? Or, at least, what should it be? As far as I can tell, the clear answer is “holiness.” We seek to be like the one who came to be like us. As much as we think of ourselves as people who “do” things, who accomplish things, who work and work and work, the reality of the Christian mission is that it’s not so much about a “what” as it is a “who.” We do what Jesus did because we want to be like him. Our life goal is to become saints, those who live with him in heaven forever.

So, how do we get there?

For the past 2000 years, there has been no shortage of treatises and guides. From the lives of the saints to apostolic exhortations written by popes, I could sit here and list hundreds of perspectives on the matter. Many people want to help you become more holy, and I encourage you to read as many of them as you can.

In this video, I’ve decided to take a slightly different approach. Rather than attack the issue head on, offering tips that will help us become holier and closer to Jesus, I’ve decided to present five ways that each of us can become a bit more evil. (Probably not what you were expecting! One commenter wrote that I’ve been in quarantine for too long, and I don’t disagree!)

The idea is simple: sometimes, it’s helpful to look at the opposite of what you want to see how you might be subtly undermining your goals. In this satirical take, I offer five things that are the furthest goals from a Christian life—things that are horrid and absurd and downright unconscionable—to make clear what we must avoid. Even as people seeking holiness, there is a part of us that is still susceptible to evil. We must be on our guard, quick to turn away from it when we find it.

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One thing that originally brought Br. Tito and I together how many years ago was our love for the show Scrubs. It is an absolute classic, a longtime favorite of mine since high school. It’s wacky, it’s moving, it’s just absolutely relevant to every situation.

This week, in honor of the heroes that are working in hospitals saving lives, Tito and I decided to devote this week’s Everyday Liminality to the wonder that is the world’s greatest medical show. Hope you enjoy!

[Also, and completely by accident, hours after posting our episode, Zach Braff and Donald Faison, two of the leads in the show, released the first episode of their own “rewatch” podcast of the show. If you’re interested, it’s called “Fake Doctors, Real Friends. Be warned that the language is not appropriate for children.]

Is there anything wrong with being rich? This is America. And in America, we reward hard work and ingenuity. You can be anything and anyone you want, right, as long as you work for it. If you work hard enough and have enough skill, you deserve everything you get. Millionaire? Billionaire? Richest person in the world? This is the sign that you have worked hard, and everything you earn is rightfully yours. No one can take it away from you.

Okay. But what if that person is a Christian?

The question of what we do with our money is arguably the most important issue found in the entire Bible (in the Old Testament, second only to the issue of idolatry.) More than an insistence on peace, more than politics, far more than sexual ethics, Jesus spends most of his earthly ministry caring for the poor and preaching about wealth. He tells his disciples how they are to approach it, preaches against the rich, and raises up the poor. Truly, if there is one thing that Jesus cares about more than anything else, it’s what we do with our money.

Understandably, then, the Catholic Church has a few things to say on the topic. Drawing from the social encyclicals, papal pronouncements, and ecumenical council documents, this week’s Catholicism In Focus offers a brief overview of the Church’s stance on but one economic topic: private property.

Can a Christian be rich? In general, the Church has no problem. But it definitely depends on what one does with their riches.